Menstrual health and hygiene issues plaguing women in the country are benefiting from the appropriate use of technology by their government.
In the rural parts of India, menstrual health and related topics of female hygiene can still be taboo among people of all ages.
Increasing the level of awareness of this important part of healthcare, and breaking down societal barriers about this taboo topic, is an important part of the country’s government.
Hari Chandana Dasari, Indian Administrative Service, Telangana, shared her experiences and insights about using technology to achieve the aforementioned goals with DigiconAsia.net.
DigiconAsia: What is the root of the taboos and myths around feminine hygiene in some rural areas of India?
Hari Chandana (HC): In rural India, there is a notable information gap that contributes to the prevalence of taboos, creating challenges for women’s well-being.
Taboos linked to specific regions — such as restrictions on entering certain areas or kitchens during menstruation — and societal stigma attached to clothing stains, contribute to feelings of insecurity among women.
Additionally, inadequate sanitation facilities for menstruating women, as well as the lack of proper health education, often results in school absenteeism in adolescent girls experiencing their monthly cycles.
Furthermore, many women in rural areas still use improperly washed clothing, unaware of the associated health risks, including cervical issues.
Finally, with myths, sexual stereotyping and taboos passing on from generation to generation over the centuries, emotional and community health support from peers and elders may be fragmented, misguided or inaccessible.
DigiconAsia: How has your team used technology to improve the situation?
HC: To address these issues, leveraging technology is a crucial and empowering solution, especially when digital technology has pervaded even rural cities (after the pandemic).
Rural communities can benefit immensely from the dissemination of accurate information through digital platforms. Taboos deeply ingrained in local cultures can be dismantled by providing accessible and culturally sensitive education via technology.
Even long-standing misconceptions, biases and myths can be slowly eroded with provable, accurate information facilitated through multimedia resources. This can foster understanding and support from within the community itself, rather than external agencies.
Also, ensuring easier access to safe hygiene products is paramount. One initiative my team embarked on was a “She Toilets” program to have public toilets — usually unisex in purpose where rural facilities are concerned — set aside for ladies only. Existing facilities, primarily available during weekly markets, were unhygienic and posed significant risks for women.
Witnessing this challenge prompted us to address the issue by providing accessible and sanitary toilets specifically for women. The initial obstacle was the infrequency of the market, making toilet maintenance a persistent challenge. This led to the innovative concept of mobile toilets, designed to reach different villages at various times. The exclusive women’s toilets not only ensure security, but are also managed by women themselves.
The service is provided free of charge, contributing to its success. These mobile toilets are also made available to ad hoc fairs and temples during festivals, acknowledging the heightened demand during these times when common facilities tend to be unsuitable for use.
To further support women, especially during their monthly cycles, we equipped the mobile toilets with dispensers and incinerators. Crucially, these bio toilets operate independently, with a ‘bio-digester’ converting waste into manure. Powered by solar energy, the facility embraces sustainability.
Having operated successfully for four years, “She Toilets” continue to make a meaningful impact on the lives of women in various communities.
DigiconAsia: What other aspects of feminine health has your team used technology to improve the situation in the rural parts of India?
HC: Many women grapple with various menstrual health or reproductive issues, ranging from cervical problems to Polycystic Ovary Syndrome or Disease, but they are often unable to discuss them openly in their rural community.
The country faces a high incidence of cervical cancer, underscoring the urgency of addressing these health concerns. A significant contributing factor is the lack of comprehensive knowledge about menstrual hygiene, hormonal health, and menstrual cycles. Numerous women experience irregular periods, further highlighting the need for informed menstrual health practices.
Technology, particularly period-tracking apps, is now a valuable tool in empowering women to understand and manage their menstrual health better. Through a pilot campaign in collaboration with UNICEF known as the Red Dot campaign, we sought to shed light on the prevalence of menstrual health issues and advocate for improved awareness and access to timely and preventative healthcare.
Introducing period-tracking apps to young school-going girls is a crucial step in fostering early education about menstrual health. Such apps not only help in tracking menstrual cycles but also contribute to a broader understanding of hormonal health, encouraging young girls to become proactive about their well-being.
DigiconAsia: How might technology enlighten conversations around menstruation and promote inclusivity?
HC: Technology plays a pivotal role in bridging gaps, particularly in breaking down societal taboos surrounding menstruation. It is crucial to emphasize that menstruation is not a taboo, and it is entirely normal for boys to be informed and supportive.
Educating boys about menstruation is essential to create a more understanding and empathetic environment, reducing emotional stress for girls and women.
Additionally, women often experience heightened sensitivity and emotional fluctuations during “that time of the month”, so men who are able to comprehend and empathize with these natural cycles will benefit in their daily social interactions.
Education should not solely focus on girls; it is equally important to educate boys and men to foster a more inclusive and supportive community. Unfortunately, the current focus tends to be on over-educating girls while overlooking the need to educate boys.
Here, technology emerges as a powerful tool for disseminating this crucial knowledge. Educational videos, skits performed in schools, and interactive gaming apps can effectively engage students. Leveraging audio-visual content not only makes the learning process more enjoyable but also increases retention.
By making education about menstruation fun and interesting through technology, we can create a more informed and empathetic society, promoting equality and understanding between genders.
At a practical level, technology is making menstrual-hygiene products sustainable, in terms of the hygiene quality level, eco-friendliness and pricing. Educating women about these alternatives is crucial, emphasizing their antimicrobial properties to ensure user safety. While there is a growing shift towards these products, it is imperative to discourage the use of bleached materials found in outdated products.
Still, affordability remains a challenge for some. The menstrual cup, however, has successfully addressed this concern by offering a more budget-friendly alternative. Utilizing digital platforms for sharing testimonials, providing usage tutorials, and spreading awareness about the benefits of sustainable options ensures a more informed and empowered community.
DigiconAsia thanks Ms Chandana for sharing her healthcare education insights with readers.